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2017 NFL Draft Prospect: O.J. Howard

O.J. Howard came to the Alabama Crimson Tide in 2013 as the top high school tight end in the country. Four years later, Howard and the rest of his teammates are preparing for the college football semifinals against the Washington Huskies on December 31st in the Peach Bowl.

Despite never becoming a dominant pass-catcher, Howard is projected as one of the top tight ends in the 2017 draft class. Is his elite athleticism enough to supersede a lack of statistical production?

Compared To The 2017 Class

Pure counting stats have never been O.J. Howard’s strong suit. Including his senior year at Autauga Academy in Alabama, Howard has never recorded more than 38 catches in a single season. He’s managed just six touchdowns in 44 career games at Alabama.

At first glance, it would be easy to chalk up his lack of production to Alabama’s perceived run-heavy offensive approach. However, in 2014 and 2015, Alabama ranked 43rd and 42nd in the nation in passing attempts. Rather than relying on simple stats to judge Howard’s college career, we can turn once again to market share.

Using the percentage of Alabama’s passing offense that Howard was responsible for factors out any notion of him playing at a disadvantage due to a ground-heavy offensive gameplan. To add more context, I’ve included the senior-season market share metrics for four other 2017 tight end prospects considered to be in the top-tier of the position along with Howard:

O.J. HowardAlabama22.1782510.150.150.08
Bucky HodgesVirginia Tech21.4792450.170.190.24
Jake ButtMichigan21.5782500.210.200.21
Jordan LeggettClemson21.9772550.100.150.17
Evan EngramMississippi22.3752270.220.250.30

It’s not unusual to see tight ends fail to post monstrous market shares, but in 2016, Howard just wasn’t that involved in Alabama’s passing game. Jake Butt and Evan Engram dwarf Howard’s production, especially in regards to finding the end zone.

For Howard to score just eight percent of Alabama’s passing TDs is worrisome, especially for a 6 foot 6, 251 pound tight end that ran a mid-4.6 forty-yard dash.

Howard has a great chance to smash the Combine this spring, morphing him into the positional golden goose that all NFL front offices crave. But his consistent lack of production at the college level needs to be taken into account.

Compared To History

Since O.J. Howard is projected by some as a first round prospect, let’s take a look at the production profiles of the 10 tight ends taken in the first round since the 2005 draft:

YearPickPlayerCollegeFinal Year msRECFinal Year msRECYDSFinal Year msRECTDS
201410Eric EbronNorth Carolina0.220.270.11
201321Tyler EifertNotre Dame0.220.240.29
201021Jermaine GreshamOklahoma0.190.190.27
200920Brandon PettigrewOklahoma State0.20.150
200830Dustin KellerPurdue0.180.220.23
200731Greg OlsenMiami (FL)
20066Vernon DavisMaryland0.240.320.4
200628Marcedes LewisUCLA0.230.230.29
200530Heath MillerVirginia0.230.250.56

Howard has fallen short of all three historical averages for this cohort with just Brandon Pettigrew and Greg Olsen posting worse TD market shares in their final college seasons. On a positive note, Howard’s senior season actually looks a lot like Olsen’s from a production standpoint which is a very favorable comparable.

This historical comparison to first round tight ends is anecdotal by nature. It should not be considered a death blow to Howard’s prospects. But Howard again falls short in terms of production when stacked up against similar tight ends.


O.J. Howard could easily become a star at the NFL Combine, and eventually, in the NFL. His blend of size and speed – especially if coupled with above-average agility – could be considered enough to warrant first round consideration for a team looking to upgrade at the tight end position.

Howard potentially has two more games to improve his resume, beginning with Washington in the Peach Bowl on New Year’s Eve. If he manages to even come close to his monster title game performance against Clemson from last season, his sub-par production profile becomes even easier to ignore.

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